Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘children with incarcerated parents

Sociologist Megan Comfort Studies How Mass Incarceration Affects Families

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Here’s a podcast with sociologist Megan Comfort on her book, Doing Time Together: Love and Family in the Shadow of Prison (UChicago Press, 2007). Here’s what the book’s about:

Megan Comfort spent years getting to know women visiting men at San Quentin State Prison, observing how their romantic relationships drew them into contact with the penitentiary. Tangling with the prison’s intrusive scrutiny and rigid rules turns these women into “quasi-inmates,” eroding the boundary between home and prison and altering their sense of intimacy, love, and justice. Yet Comfort also finds that with social welfare weakened, prisons are the most powerful public institutions available to women struggling to overcome untreated social ills and sustain relationships with marginalized men. As a result, they express great ambivalence about the prison and the control it exerts over their daily lives.


Written by sara

August 29, 2011 at 10:19 am

Upcoming Event (& New Book!): Children of Incarcerated Parents Conference at Rutgers-Camden

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Rutgers-Camden will host a public conference on Wednesday, June 23, “that aims to open a dialogue about the needs of children and families of the incarcerated and how the private and public sectors can better respond.” More details:

Panels will be held on policy issues surrounding the Adoption and Safe Families Act (AFSA); the role of educators supporting children and families; the developmental effects of trauma on children; interventions for children of incarcerated parents; and best practices for supporting child and parent relationships. Representatives from regional corrections facilities and social services agencies will also be speaking, in addition to the keynote speaker, a formerly incarcerated father who founded Frontline Dads, for fathers dealing with life before and after incarceration.

The occasion for the conference is Rutgers professor Jane Siegel’s new book, Disrupted Childhoods: Children of Women in Prison(Rutgers UP, 2011). The conference is open to the public, but it looks like there’s a $45 fee. Registration form here.

Nevada Private Prison Joins Trend of Replacing Visits with Closed-Circuit Video

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The Las Vegas Review-Journal has this interview with the warden of a brand-new private prison. The interview itself is worth reading as a quick look at a warden’s point of view, but I wanted to highlight this line from the introductory material:

Nevada Southern, built by Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corp. of America for $83.5 million, will look different than traditional prisons in more than just ownership. Prisoners can meet with outsiders, except lawyers, only through closed-circuit video feeds. In-person contact, in a large room or separated by heavy glass, has passed into history.

Between their out-of-the-way locations, security measures, advance paperwork requirements, limited visiting hours, exorbitant phone call fees, etc., prisons can make it very hard for inmates to coordinate and receive visits from family and friends. Yet studies have consistently suggested that prisoners who receive visits and maintain family ties fare better in terms of recidivism and reentry after they return to their community (as 90% of prisoners eventually do). In turn, visits are also important for prisoners’ children; studies suggest “those who visit their parents more often and under better visiting conditions exhibit fewer adjustment problems” (Petersilia, When Prisoners Come Home, p. 44). Although I do not know if it’s been empirically proven, I would be surprised if a closed-circuit video visit has the same meaning to either prisoners or their visitors as a face-to-face conversation. I would assume that if pressed about this policy, CCA would say it’s about keeping out contraband and/or cutting costs. But it sounds to me like a short-sighted, counterproductive measure.

Written by sara

September 27, 2010 at 7:38 am

GAO to Study Price Gouging for Prison Phone Calls

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The ACLU Blog of Rights notes a little-noticed feature of the recently-signed Prison Cell Phone Act:

The bill orders the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the rates that federal prisoners must pay to use ordinary prison phones — and to investigate less expensive alternatives.

The GAO should take a hard look at prison phone rates. The fact is that prisoners who want to stay in touch with their children, parents, and spouses are being gouged. With steep charges to initiate a call, and astronomical per-minute rates, it can cost a prisoner over $30 to make a half-hour call to a loved one. Those who qualify for a prison job often make less than 25 cents per hour — so paying for a brief call to a son or daughter may require more than 100 hours of labor. Read the rest of this entry »

Michigan Supreme Court: Incarceration Is Not a Sufficient Reason to Terminate Parental Rights

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Father's Day 2010 at the California Men's Colony (courtesy CDCR)

“Incarceration alone is not a sufficient reason for termination of parental rights,” the Michigan Supreme Court has held (PDF link), in overturning a lower court ruling that stripped a 29-year-old father’s parental rights while he was in prison. Free Press columnist Jeff Gerritt praises the decision:

The ruling by two liberal justices (Marilyn Kelly and Michael Cavanagh) and two conservative justices (Robert Young Jr. and Maura Corrigan) does more than uphold the rights of the incarcerated. It’s good news for anyone espousing so-called family values — or, for that matter, anyone who believes the courts and state bureaucracy should consider real-world problems when interpreting the law.

Like many family law cases, this one implicates a mixture of messy facts and strong moral judgments on all sides, so I am hesitant to repeat the facts posited by either the majority or dissenting opinion as gospel; you can click on the link above to read for yourself. For legal purposes, the key holding seems to be that lower courts can’t apply a presumption of parental unfitness based on a parent’s present incarceration; they must at least consider whether the parent might be fit to care for the children after his/her release. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

June 15, 2010 at 11:43 am

Washington DOC Settles with Woman Shackled During Childbirth

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As reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Washington DOC will pay a $125,000 settlement to former inmate Casandra Brawley, who was shackled while giving birth in April 2007 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tacoma. Partly in response to Brawley’s case, Washington has since passed legislation banning the practice of shackling inmates during childbirth. In her lawsuit, Brawley was represented by Legal Voice, a women’s rights nonprofit, and the Seattle law firm Peterson Young Putra. More information on this case as well as Legal Voice’s anti-shackling advocacy efforts more generally is available at the Legal Voice website.

Happy (Belated) Mother’s Day to All the Mothers in Prison, or with Children in Prison

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Nearly 70% of women in state prisons have young children, and over half have never had a visit from them. Those statistics come from the Sentencing Project, which has put together some stories of how women in prison spend Mother’s Day. The video above is from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which collaborated with the Center for Restorative Justice Works to bring over 700 children to visit their incarcerated mothers yesterday in the 11th annual Get on the Bus event. A similar event is also being planned for Father’s Day.

Written by sara

May 10, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Second Grader Tests Limits of Rhode Island’s Prison-based Gerrymandering Policy

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A second grade girl is putting Rhode Island’s prison-based gerrymandering policy to the test. As reported by this local TV news story, the child has requested that she be allowed to stay on with her classmates at her elementary school in Cranston, where her father is incarcerated, rather than transferring to an elementary school in Providence, where she recently moved with her mother. Advocates for the 9-year-old girl argue that since Cranston considers inmates to be residents at Census time, the city should be prepared to afford them access to services for residents — such as access to the public schools for their children. It’s funny to watch Cranston’s flustered mayor, Allan Fung, towards the end of the local news story: “This individual is not a taxpayer to the city of Cranston! He’s in a situation where he’s incarcerated!” The story also interviews an organizer with Direct Action for Rights and Equality, a Rhode Island organization that advocates for low-income communities of color.

This is a revealing test case, but it’s also a test case that could really only happen in Rhode Island. Cranston is a few minutes’ drive from Providence. In most states, of course, the incarcerated father would more likely be in a prison hours away from his daughter. But in states across the country, local politicians prefer to count prisoners as residents of their districts so they can attract population-based funding and boost their numbers for legislative redistricting, even though prisoners usually can’t vote, aren’t taxpayers, and aren’t considered local residents for just about any other purpose. For instance, prisoners who attempt to petition the local courts for a divorce are frequently rejected and instructed instead to file in their home county. Another revealing inconsistency is that prisoners incarcerated out-of-state generally aren’t considered residents of the state where they are incarcerated by the federal courts when determining personal jurisdiction. In short, nowhere in our governmental structure are prisoners really considered “residents” of the locality where their prison is located, except when it comes time for redistricting. This year legislation has been proposed in several states — including Rhode Island — to end this practice; you can track the issue at the Prisoners of the Census blog.

Children with Parents Behind Bars Are Focus of Research, Discussion at Connecticut University

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Mass incarceration ripples out into every corner of society: Today, one in 15 black children, 1 in 42 Latino children, and 1 in 111 white children has a parent in prison. Although it’s well documented that children of incarcerated parents are at higher-than-average risk for being incarcerated themselves (see, for instance, this Sentencing Project report, which is also where I got the statistics above), I was still somewhat startled to read a Connecticut court official’s estimate that some 70% of juvenile detainees in the Constitution State have an incarcerated parent.

The figure comes via Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy, which is in the midst of an initiative focusing on children with incarcerated parents. The institute hosted a conference last week bringing together court officials, representatives of community organizations, and residents to identify and discuss the needs of the estimated 20,000 Connecticut children who have a parent behind bars. The New Britain Herald reports:

The conference focused on goals such as making prison visits more inviting and less intimidating for children.

Transportation can also be a problem with no bus lines leading directly to state prisons, which can mean that some children will not see their parent for their entire sentence.

The results can be traumatic, said Lauren Pedersen, a clinician at the Klingberg Family Centers.

“So many kids we see have long periods without seeing a parent and it results in behavioral problems,” said Pedersen, who estimated that 20 to 25 percent of the children’s cases she handles have parents who are incarcerated. “There’s a lot of shame involved in having a parent incarcerated.”

Another factor that [Connecticut court official and CCSU adjunct professor Trevor] Johnson stressed is the lack of coordination between child-service agencies that can lead to a lack of understanding of why the child is having problems at home and at school.

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